What are the seagoing scientists doing now?

Penny Holliday, NOC

Many of the OSNAP blog stories we’ve posted so far give a flavour of the exciting array we have deployed in the subpolar North Atlantic, and the process by which we have achieved this. With a fleet of 4 ships and a diverse teamP1010183 of scientists and engineers, over the course of the 2014 summer we put in place our measuring system that will tell us so much about the circulation of the region. Many of our instruments lie unattended and uncommunicative in the darkness of the deep ocean until we haul them out of the depths and back into fresh air one or two years later. We harvest the data as soon as they come back onboard and the long process of turning a large set of numbers into information about the changing ocean begins.

So you might think that now the instruments are in the water we can take a break, do something else, and just wait for the next cruises to come along. Or you might guess the truth, which something rather different. The detailed planning for next years’ cruises has already started, and work on data collected during the array deployment cruises, and from instruments that are communicative while they roam the ocean, is well underway.

In my part of OSNAP there are two pressing tasks; working on the data that we collected during our 2014 cruise on the RRS James Clark Ross, and planning the cruises to recover and redeploy our moorings in summer 2015. UK OSNAP worked the entire OSNAP line from Canada to Greenland to Scotland, making a detailed CTD section which we will use to describe the circulation, heat, freshwater and carbon content at that point in time. Our first task back in July was to finalise data sets and archive them at data centres. This sounds rather dull but it serves many purposes, not least making the temperature and salinity data immediately available for the purposes of quality controlling data from floats and gliders in the vicinity. Now we are on to the exciting task of analysing the data from the comfort of our offices. I love this part of the job – taking a brand new dataset and exploring the complexities of the ocean that it will slowly reveal to us. It includes entraining new students into the work – getting them started by suggesting a particular thread of research for them to follow, making plots, performing calculations, learning how to interpret the data in front of them.

When we wrote our proposal for OSNAP we set the budget around buying and borrowing the instruments we need to deploy the array over the course of 4 years. The plan requires a lot of borrowing because we don’t have the cash to buy a complete set of new instruments to deploy as we recover the existing ones. Instead, we coordinate with other programmes to use some of their equipment for a year, while in return they can use our first set of instruments once they have been recovered and serviced. It is likely that some in-water equipment will be lost or broken, so we have a contingency fund to buy replacements, and our past experience of similar programmes helps us decide what that might be. At the moment we are ordering the extra stuff we will need for next summer and deciding who will go on the cruises. There is a long lead time for cruises, and the coming years of the OSNAP programme will always be like this; planning the next year’s fieldwork as soon as the present one is complete.

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